The Museum of Science is a gift to families in Boston, offering dozens of interactive displays that take hours to investigate, with ever-changing rotating exhibits. Its newest temporary exhibit, A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature, is just as enthralling and informative as the Museum’s permanent collections, teaching visitors about how patterns are found everywhere, from a shell's spiral to the veins on a leaf. Bonus: Entrance to the exhibit is included in the general admission, so you can check it out without having to chip in any extra. Here's what we discovered in this truly cool exhibit, and our recommendations for visiting.
Colorful Nature Footage
I went with my kids and my daughter’s friend on the frigid Members-Only Preview day, the day before the Super Bowl, when the Museum was mobbed with people. Even the employees were unclear what was driving the crowds, but many of them definitely came for the Mirror Maze. The exhibit is on the second floor of the Green Wing, near the Human Body Exhibit, overlooking the lobby. When you enter the exhibit, the first thing you see are various screens demonstrating the examples of natural patterns, emerging and disappearing from different perspectives. There's also a large screen showing footage of nature, architecture and the human body that my seven-year-old daughter and her friend really enjoyed.
The exhibit leads into a second room called Exploring Patterns, which has large metal wheels with screens showing explanations about fractal branching, Voronoi patterns, the golden ratio, and spirals. The girls really loved this part, spinning the wheel to try to make the pictures move faster (although I’m not sure that was actually happening). They were less interested in learning about how veins of a leaf follow a fractal branching pattern to maximize the flow of liquid than working together to spin the wheel. I, on the other hand, found the information really fascinating (and I say that as someone who is spectacularly mathematically disinclined).
An A-maze-ing Finish
At long last, we reached the maze section of the exhibit, which was definitely the highlight. The 1,700-foot maze is designed to demonstrate the infinite repeating pattern of mirrors. We spent about five minutes wandering through before the kids found the end. There is meant to be a small secret room hidden inside, but we weren’t able to find it with so many people walking through. All three kids loved trying to figure out which way to go, and they said they would like to do it again. My 12-year-old son said he wished it was longer. I liked it, but was glad I only had three older kids with me, because wrangling multiple toddlers might have been a little hairy. Also, the lights in the maze are a little trippy, so if you have a child with sensory issues, you might want to skip this part (you don’t have to go through the maze to reach the end of the exhibit).
The maze leads into a large room at the end, which was filled with a variety of stations. The most popular station showed the symmetry of visitors’ bodies with a body scan, measuring their wingspan and bone lengths. Unfortunately, the line for that one was too long for us to try, but people seemed to find it very interesting. My pianist son enjoyed the music station that lets visitors choose musical notes to try to find repeating sounds, and the two girls liked a station by the exit that let them match up spirals to different photos from nature. We definitely could have spent more time in the final room, but all three kids were starting to melt down after the wait, so we had to cut our visit shorter than we would have liked.
At the end, the kids agreed that the exhibit was a winner, and they would like to come back to see it again (preferably without the crowds). It would probably be best to check it out after the initial excitement dies down, or on a weekday when the Museum isn’t too busy.
Know Before You Go
- A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature is on display through April 25.
- The exhibit is free with regular admission: $25 for adults, $20 for kids aged 3-11
- It takes about 20 minutes to get through once, but don't be surprised if your kids ask to go through the maze a second (or third!) time.
Photos courtesy of Museum of Science, Boston